Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Phil Dowe on the God of the Gaps objection

Philosopher of Science Phil Dowe on the 'god of the gaps' objection to design arguments in his book Galileo, Darwin and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2005):

'One of the marks of scientific knowledge is that it is defeasible, that is, open to revision. No scientific theory can be regarded as the final word, no matter how well confirmed and established it is today. There may yet be a different, even more accurate and sucessful theory to take its place at some time in the future. This is all the more true for the more speculative and tentative results of many arguments to the best explanation... Provided there is no independent evidence of multiple worlds, we should infer the existence of a designer [from the anthropic fine tuning of the universe]. However, once there is such independent evidence, then we need to face the question of whether there is a need for explanation. [There may be a need for a meta-explanation of the system that accounts for there being many universes - but even such an explanation may reduce the evidence for design]. This approach is open to the god of the gaps objection. According to this way of thinking, it is a mistake to believe in God on the grounds that doing so will explain some particular fact about nature, because such reasoning is open to refutation the moment subsequent scientific development uncovers perfectly good natural explanations for the facts in question... However, this objection is faulty. It is true that further developments in cosmology may force us to rethink the argument from the fine-tuning, and indeed abandone it. But there is no reason to ignore it now. We must draw conclusions based on the evidence we have. All scientific reasoning works like that - it is by nature defeasible. That it is defeasible is no reason to ignore the conclusions as we now see them. The same may sometimes be true of reasons for God. If the reason is removed at a later time, then unless that was our only evidence for God, that is no reason to think God does not exist, and should, logically, be no reason to doubt.' (p. 193-194.)

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